January 17: Ukraine
Ukraine goes to polls to choose a new president. Pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych who takes 35 percent and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who takes 25 percent of the votes emerge as two leading candidates. Because no candidate obtained the required 50 percent of the vote, they are forced into a runoff vote, which will take place in February. Pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution hero obtains a mere 5.5 percent of the votes. The Ukrainian people blame him for failing to deliver promised reforms, including tackling corruption, introducing transparency in government, and closer ties with the European Union.
January 28: Cyprus/European Union
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) upholds the ruling of a Cypriot court that Greek Cypriots have the right to reclaim their land and homes in the Turkish-controlled Cyprus left behind after they had to flee Turkish invasion in 1974. The ruling opens the door for more legal battles about the properties in Cyprus.
January 28: Greece
Greece’s Prime Minister George Papandreou says that Greece will not ask the European Union for financial bailout despite the country’s dismal financial situation. Greece’s debt amounts to $419 billion, or 113 percent of its GDP, which significantly exceeds the eurozone limits of 60 percent. It also has a budget deficit of 12.7 percent of its GDP, which is also far above the eurozone top limit of 3 percent. The Greek government is planning to introduce austerity measures.
February 8: Ukraine
Ukraine’s pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych narrowly wins the country’s run-off presidential election, defeating Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. This is a big comeback for Yanukovych who was embroiled in fraudulent elections in 2004. During his presidency, Ukraine is expected to redirect its policies toward Russia.
February 13: Great Britain
U.S., British, and Afghan forces begin Operation Moshtarak, a military offensive in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, which involves more than 15,000 joined troops. The objective of the offensive is to recapture the area from the Taliban and turn it over to the control of the local authorities. The troops are encountering strong opposition from the Taliban insurgents who use civilian hostages as human shields. It is expected that the operation will take as long as 18 months, but the troops are already working with the local elders to prepare the area for the return of the Afghan police and civilian administration. Operation Moshtarak is the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
February 22: United Kingdom
The United Kingdom begins oil exploration in the waters off the Falkland Islands despite protests from Argentina, which has long claimed sovereignty over the territory it calls the Islas Malvinas. (February 24): During their second summit in Mexico, Latin American and the Caribbean states unanimously back Argentina’s claims to the Falkland Islands and condemn Britain for oil drilling in the waters of the archipelago. (February 25): Argentina officially asks the United Nations to mediate the talks with the United Kingdom on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.
March 3: Greece
The Greek government approves a new austerity plan in response to the country’s budget crisis amidst strong protests from the people. The cost-cutting plan includes a pensions freeze, an increase of sales tax, and significant cuts in the public sector.
March 11: Ukraine
Newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych forms a new coalition government and names former Finance Minister Mykola Azarov to be the new prime minister. Outgoing Prime Minister and one of the main heroes of the 2004 Orange Revolution Yulia Tymoshenko is forced out after a vote of no confidence.
March 15: France
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party fares poorly in France’s regional elections which are seen as a major test before the 2012 presidential election. Dissatisfied voters use the regional elections to express their frustration at the poor state of the country’s economy and unpopular reforms pushed by Sarkozy. The winner of the vote is the opposition Socialist party which, together with other leftist groups, gathers 54 percent of the vote. The far-right National Front also picks up more votes, winning 9 percent. The UMP gathers 34 percent of the vote and is left in control of only one of France’s 22 regions.
April 10: Poland
A plane carrying Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski, first lady Maria Kaczynska, senior government and military officials, and cultural figures crashes near Russian city of Smolensk, killing all 96 people on board. The Polish delegation was on its way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by the Soviets during WWII. The initial investigation points to a pilot’s error. According to the Polish constitution, the speaker of the house Bronislaw Komorowski takes over as an interim president and the new presidential election has to take place in June.
April 12: United Kingdom
The Northern Ireland’s Assembly nominates David Ford of the Alliance Party to become the region’s justice minister after the devolution of policing and justice powers. He is the first justice minister since 1972, when London took policing powers away from Northern Ireland.
April 18: Cyprus
Turkish Cypriots in the northern part of divided Cyprus elect a nationalist Dervis Eroglu their new president. Unlike the incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat, who supported reunification of Cyprus and close relations with the European Union, Eroglu favors two separate independent Greek and Turkish Cypriot states. The election shows the northern Cypriots’ frustrations with Talat’s unfulfilled promises of unification and ending of isolation.
April 21: Russia/Ukraine
Newly elected pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych extends the lease for Russia’s naval base in a strategic Crimean city of Sevastopol for another 25 years. In return, Ukraine will obtain Russian natural gas at discounted price.
May 2: Greece/Romania/Italy/Portugal/Spain/European Union
The European Union’s Eurozone members and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approve a $146 billion three-year bailout package for Greece to rescue its economy and prevent it from defaulting on its huge debt. It is feared that if Greece is allowed to default, other countries with troubled economies, such as Portugal and Spain, would follow. For its part, Greece agrees to pass major budget cuts and tax rises. (May 5): Three people die during violent protests in the Greek capital of Athens over planned austerity measures. (May 19): Tens of thousands of people gather in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, to protests the government’s plans to implement austerity measures. The government has to reduce its budget deficit in order to receive another loan installment from the IMF. (May 25): The Italian government approves austerity measures of $29 billion to deal with its budget deficit. Spain and Portugal announce similar plans.
May 6: United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom’s general election, the Conservative Party wins most seats, ending the 13-year rule of the center-left Labour Party; it fails, however, to obtain an outright majority. Its leader, David Cameron, becomes new prime minister after forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This will be the first coalition government in the last 70 years.
May 31: Turkey
Israeli troops raid a Turkish ship on the Mediterranean Sea, killing nine activists. The ship carried humanitarian goods for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, trying to break an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the territory. Israel blocked Gaza to put pressure on the Hamas government. In protest of the incident, Turkey withdraws its ambassador from Israel and cancels joint military exercises.
June 14: Belgium
In a surprising turnaround, Belgium’s marginal parties, the separatist New Flemish Alliance (NVA) followed by the French Socialist Party from the French-speaking region of Wallonia gain the most votes in the federal parliamentary elections, beating the governing coalition of Christian Democrats, Liberals, and Socialists. The NVA’s ultimate mission is to gain independence for Flanders, Belgium’s northern region.
June 15: United Kingdom
On behalf of the British government, UK Prime Minister David Cameron apologizes for the shooting of 26 unarmed protesters in 1972 in the city of Derry in Northern Ireland known as the Bloody Sunday, calling it “unjustified and unjustifiable.” The apology comes after the publication of the Saville report that took 12 years to complete, which concluded that all victims were killed without justification. The report also says that the events of the Bloody Sunday strengthened the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and exacerbated the conflict in Northern Ireland.
June 21: Poland
Poland’s acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski from the center-right Civic Platform, wins the most votes in the presidential election, but falls short of obtaining a majority, forcing a run-off scheduled for July 4. His main rival, the late president’s Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a conservative and divisive former prime minister and leader of a the Law and Justice Party, campaigned on a platform of compromise.
July 4: Poland
Bronislaw Komorowski from the ruling Civic Platform party (PO) defeats a conservative Jaroslaw Kaczynski from the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in the second round of elections, becoming Poland’s next president. The position of president in Poland is largely ceremonial, but among other rights the president can initiate the legislative process, veto legislation, and dissolve the parliament.
August 19: France
France begins a controversial crackdown on the Roma people by dismantling their illegal camps and deporting several hundreds of its inhabitants back to Romania and Bulgaria. Human rights groups have criticized the operation and have questioned whether it complies with the European Union’s anti-discrimination and freedom of movement laws. However, France says the camps, in which the Roma have lived in appalling conditions, are a breeding ground for crime, prostitution, trafficking, and child exploitation. Also, until 2014, the citizens of the newest EU members, Romania and Bulgaria, are required to have work or residency permits to stay in EU countries for longer than three months.
September 2: France/European Union
The European Commission criticizes France and calls for legal action against it for its crackdown on illegal Roma camps and the expulsion of over 1,000 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania. The European Commission says that France resorted to mass deportations rather than examining people on a case by case basis. It also demands that France presents proof that it did not target Roma as an ethnic group, which is forbidden by the EU law. (October 15): France submits a plan to the European Commission on how it is going to implement the EU’s Directive on Freedom of Movement, prompting the EU to withdraw its threat of legal action against France.
September 12: Turkey
In a national referendum, Turkey approves 26 constitutional amendments, aiming at aligning the country’s constitution with European Union standards. The changes increase power of the civilian courts, strengthen gender equality, and ban discrimination against children, elderly, and the disabled. They also remove the ban on political strikes.
September 29: Europe
Tens of thousands of Europeans march through the Belgian city of Brussels to protest in front of European Union institutions against the austerity measures being implemented by some EU governments. Protests and strikes have been held in Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland, France, and Latvia. Sparked by the financial crisis, the spending cuts include cuts in wages, pensions, and employment. The French parliament has passed legislation increasing the minimum retirement age despite the trade-union led protests of over a million French workers.
October 3: Bosnia-Herzegovina
Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country with deep ethnic divisions, goes to the polls to vote for leaders in the federal government and parliament, including a joint rotating presidency, as well as governments and assemblies of the two autonomous regions. According to its complicated system, the country of 3.8 million people votes for five presidents and 700 legislators. Most political parties are divided along the ethnic lines and fail to cooperate to achieve any necessary reforms. The negotiations to form a new coalition government will take months. Zlatko Lagumdzija’s multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the biggest winner of the election, while Milorad Dodik’s Party of Independent Social Democrats strengthens its presence in both Republika Srpska and at state level.
October 25: European Union/Greece
The European Union (EU) is set to send its Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) to Greece to help it stem illegal migrants entering into the EU via the Greek land border with Turkey. It is estimated that about 350 illegal immigrants, many of them Albanians and Afghans, are trying to enter Greece every day. RABIT was established in 2007 to provide rapid operational assistance for a limited time to any EU member state facing a migratory problem.
October 29: Poland/Russia
Poland and Russia sign a natural gas agreement. According to the deal, Russia will deliver gas to Poland until 2022 and Poland will transit Russian gas to Europe through the Yamal-Europe pipeline until 2019. Poland imports more than 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. The critics of the deal say it makes Poland overly dependent on Russia for its energy needs.
November 23: Ireland/European Union
The European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) approve a bail-out for Ireland amounting to $113 billion to help solve the country’s debt crisis. The rescue package intends to shore up the country’s banks and help the government’s spending. In exchange, Ireland is supposed to implement austerity measures, which include spending and job cuts and raising taxes. The Irish labor unions are planning protests against the measures.
December 8: Russia/European Union
The European Union (EU) announces its support for Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) after Russia agreed to phase out export tariffs on raw materials such as timber. Russia is the only large economy outside of the 153-member WTO, the organization that regulates world trade.